If you have a vacation or business travel plan, you may want to develop a plan for how to handle dental emergencies while traveling. While you will most likely never have a dental emergency, knowing what to do will give you a better chance of saving your teeth if you experience one!
Please remember this article is strictly educational and not intended to diagnose specific conditions. Each person is an individual who needs personalized care from a dentist, endodontist, or other healthcare professional.
Preventing Potential Dental Emergencies
The best way to prevent many potential dental health problems is to stay consistent with oral hygiene and dental care. Brush twice a day using a soft-bristled toothbrush with fluoride toothpaste, and floss daily. Stay current with your professional dental cleaning and check-up exams.
If you play sports, consider wearing a sports mouthguard to protect your teeth from accidents. If you chronically grind your teeth, wear a mouthguard while you sleep to protect them from unnecessary wear and tear that may weaken them. Also, follow any standard safety precautions that protect your head, like wearing a helmet while cycling and wearing your seatbelt in a car. You can’t guarantee you will never have an accident, but following these guidelines minimizes the risk of damage to yourself, including your teeth.
Always avoid using your teeth as tools to open packages, break things, trim nails, or open bottles.
Resolve any dental issues as soon as you can. Of course, sometimes you may need to travel while waiting for a procedure. If you have pending treatment planned, ask your dentist what you should do if your situation gets worse during your trip. Your dentist may have a colleague at your destination who you can see if you happen to have a dental emergency while traveling.
Making a Plan for Potential Emergencies
Before you go, take the time to re-familiarize yourself with your health and dental insurance coverage, specifically how your coverage applies to travel. If your travel coverage is lacking, then you may want to get a supplemental travel vacation insurance plan.
Get the names, addresses, and phone numbers of urgent care, emergency rooms, and emergency dental care providers in each area you are visiting. Enter that information into your phone. While you most likely won’t need to use the information, having it will help you stay calm and collected if an emergency happens during your trip.
Be sure to bring your toothbrush, dental floss, mouthwash, toothpaste, and over-the-counter pain medications with you so you can care for your teeth as recommended.
Most of the suggestions we’re making for specific emergencies assume you are traveling domestically. If you are planning an international trip, talk with your dentist about how to handle an emergency while abroad. Also, research the dental care and medical care systems in the country where you plan to travel. If you purchase dental travel insurance, your plan will likely provide information.
What to Do if You Face a Dental Emergency
While this list isn’t comprehensive, it includes some common and uncommon dental emergencies someone may encounter while traveling.
The American Association of Endodontists (AAE) offers advice on what to do if a tooth is knocked out. They advise you to see a dentist or endodontist within 30 minutes. In the meantime,
- Carefully pick up the tooth by the crown (the top of the tooth, which is normally above your gums), avoiding touching the root if possible.
- If the tooth is soiled or dirty, gently rinse it with a sterile saline solution or low-fat milk. Do NOT use water, and don’t scrub it since that can damage the root.
- Gently reposition the tooth within the socket and try to keep it in place while you travel to see a dentist.
If a tooth cracks, the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that you rinse your mouth with warm water to clean it, then use cold compresses to reduce any swelling.
If you have a toothache, the ADA advises you to rinse the mouth with warm water and gently use dental floss to remove anything caught between the teeth. Use an over-the-counter pain medication, but don’t put aspirin directly on the gum tissue.
One of the more common dental emergencies you may encounter while traveling is a lost filling. Perhaps you were eating and noticed a small hard object in your mouth. If this happens, Colgate suggests that you contact an emergency dentist at your destination. A dentist may put a temporary filling in to protect your tooth and prevent pain until you are home and able to see your usual dentist. Often when a filling falls out, it is due to new tooth decay. Your dentist will likely need to examine your tooth to assess the damage since you may need other treatments like a root canal, a crown, or even an extraction.
Sports Injury or Accident
Unexpected injuries during sports or active recreation can cause damage to your tooth, soft tissues, or tongue. If you have a tongue injury, such as a bite, your priority should be to stop any bleeding by applying pressure to the wound using a sterile cloth for 15-20 minutes, according to Colgate. Next, use salt water or diluted hydrogen peroxide to clean the area and reduce the risk of infection.
See a doctor or dentist if the bleeding persists, there is an infection, a large laceration, or other damage to the tongue. You may need to go to the emergency room.
If a tooth is displaced or chipped, follow the advice mentioned earlier. Wearing a protective mouthguard reduces the risk of damage to your teeth and tongue.
When to Go to the Emergency Room
Accidents that cause trauma to the mouth also often cause head trauma. If your head was hit, go to urgent care or the emergency room for an examination to rule out a concussion. Other signs to look for include dizziness, blurry vision, incoherent speech, loss of coordination, or confusion.
Another time to go to the ER is for rapid swelling, intense pain, fever, or persistent bleeding. When in doubt, err on the side of caution.
If you experienced a dental emergency while traveling, take care of your health during your trip, and then contact your dentist or endodontist for follow-up care once you return home. If you are visiting or live in the Charlotte, NC area, contact Ballantyne Endodontics if you experienced tooth trauma or a cracked tooth during your travels. As endodontists, we frequently deal with dental emergencies like a cracked tooth and strive to save the natural tooth whenever possible.